Thursday, June 18, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Livia and Cicero Disagree

Cicero contends that it is inappropriate to attribute possessive qualities to inanimate objects, even if they are nouns, as in "Today's forecast calls for rain." I've never met Today, but he seems like an opportunist.

Livia maintains that "...inanimate objects do have the property of possession. One of the beauties of English is its adaptability. To get around the clumsiness of using Latinate structure—the financial analyst of the Times, the suspension of the Acura—English allows us to apply the shorthand ‘s: the result is clarity of meaning and simplicity of expression—two highly prized (by me, at least) elements of style." Her examples include: The Times’s financial analyst...; The Acura’s suspension...; The book’s plot...; The building’s character...; The city’s traffic....; The piano’s tone... You get the idea.

We are in the midst of an identity (power?) struggle. Cicero intends that Grammarsnot should (continue to) be our soapbox for inappropriate, wrong, and annoying usage choices. Cicero mainly objects to the freewheeling, obnoxious, egocentric, and ill-informed usage choices made by media types. Cicero's objection has always been that these usage choices are intended to provide the authors with a measure of control, deduced by readers as intelligence, thereby attributing erudition to those who do not possess it.

Livia's contention is that the possessive quality of some of the poor usage choices is correct, and therefore is not fodder for this venue. Cicero may be slightly overstating (or understating, or mis-stating, or mis-remembering per Roger Clemens), Livia's position.